No stranger to Central Indiana audiences, singer-songwriter-pianist Ann Hampton Callaway will join the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, led by maestro Jack Everly, this Friday and Saturday for a Printing Partners Pop concert, “Ann Hampton Callaway: The Linda Ronstadt Songbook,” at Hilbert Circle Theatre.
Reached by phone earlier this week at her Tucson, Arizona home, Hampton said, “I think I have performed with the ISO more than any other orchestra in the country, so it is almost like a homecoming to be with Jack and the orchestra. When I hosted and co-hosted ‘Yuletide,’ I felt like I lived there.” In 2015, Callaway also performed in concert at The Palladium in Carmel.
“Linda, to me, is one of the singers, like me, who is in love with music in general. Her astonishing career has covered so many types of music so well. It’s an example of a woman who followed her heart and led with her gut and was a huge, huge success. I think because of her versatility and the breadth of music that I love that she did,” Callaway said when asked why she chose to pay tribute to Ronstadt, the multiple Grammy Award-winning popular music singer, who performed and recorded in diverse genres including rock, country, light opera, and Latin.
“I thought it would be an exciting show to do and squeeze a little bit into not only a lot of standards that she helped revive in our culture, but also the wonderful iconic pop songs I grew up with. So, I am getting to go back to that early part of my musicality and really have a great time. It’s just an electrifying show,” Callaway said with enthusiasm, adding .The other reason I wanted to do it is because it just saddens me greatly that one of the most beloved and beautiful voices of the twentieth century was silenced by a form of Parkinson’s Disease. I don’t choose a living legend to honor very often but my heart went our to her and thought “Oh, she needs to be ceelbrated” I have been very fortunate to get to know Linda online. We have sent each other emails the last few years and have talked on the phone a bit. I have just seen what an incredible person she is, showing grace under fire in this time of harrowing challenges medically. She has been freely supportive and has given me her blessing so It is one of my favorite shows I have ever performed.”
Our conversation naturally led to Ronstadt being honored at the 2019 Kennedy Center Honors, about which Callaway said, “I was chosen to sing that week. Every year, they use people to honor the people being honored and so they asked me if I would perform my show at the Kennedy Center that week and they streamed it all over the country. It was a thrilling thing.”
I pointed out to Callaway that her career reflected an entertainer who is not afraid to expand her repertoire to which she replied, “I have an insatiable curiosity and I love challenging myself. I love learning new things. I love giving audiences surprises and creating beautiful experiences that make people ask, ‘What she going to do next?’ I want to be as excited and inspired as my audience is and I really think that with what I call my ‘Legacy Series,’ where I celebrated Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee, I have learned so much from each artist. I have learned so much about the music as a singer. I have stretched my vocal technique and my interpretive skills, but I have also learned how these singers have governed huge challenges and it’s been wonderful company to put myself into these huge projects that are very dazzling.”
Returning to the subject of Ronstadt, Callaway said, “Linda is very interesting because normally I try to make other artist’s music my own, but in this case, some of the songs are so iconic, I thought ‘Let’s just leave it alone.’ This particular show is not only a portrait of Linda, it is a love fest. When I start singing ‘You’re No Good,’ everybody knows all the words, everyone’s clapping, singing and I wanted people to have that comfort zone of hearing some of the songs the way they remembered them. I would not do that with any other artist. But that’s part of the joy of Linda’s music, the way she took many of the great classic rock songs and made them her own.”
Callaway was also excited to tell me about another attraction of her upcoming show. “In this particular concert, I am thrilled to say that because Linda has been a huge champion of the Great American Songbook and worked with the best arranger of the 20th century, Nelson Riddle, I am very honored that Linda gave me access to Nelson Riddle’s charts to the standards. I will be singing the best arrangements of these incredibly beautiful songs with the orchestra and I think people will be enthralled getting to hear the real deal.”
When I asked her to give me a few more titles of songs she would be performing, Callaway said, “I can’t imagine doing a Linda Ronstadt concert without doing ‘Blue Bayou,’ ‘Somewhere Out There,’ ‘That’ll Be the Day.’ I also have Billy Stritch (who most recently performed with ‘4Girls4: Broadway’s Leading Ladies in Concert’ at the Palladium) at the piano and he is one of the finest accompanist in the country. He also happens to be a wonderful singer and songwriter. He has played with Tony Bennett and Liza Minnelli and we have been friends since the early 90s. He knows this music inside and out. He grew up with it.”
Having seen Callaway perform with her sister and fellow Broadway star Liz Callaway, I asked her if they were still working together. “We will ‘til our dying days. We have had fantastic shows and great success with our new show ‘Broadway the Calla-Way!’ and hopefully we are going to record a few singles from the show.”
When I inquired about why she was living in Tucson, Callaway said, “This is where my better half (her wife Kari Strand) is from. We are so very happy to be living in her hometown. We moved to Tucson a year and a half ago because Kari really missed it tremendously. I can live anywhere since I am on the road all the time or 75 percent of the time. We bought an incredible house with the most beautiful mountain views. It’s a really fantastic place to live and I am really enjoying it a lot,” adding, “By the way, Tucson is where Linda (Ronstadt) is from).”
Circling back to the concert, my final question to Callaway concerned what people can anticipate when they come to her concert this weekend. “They can expect a beautiful and rousing concert with a mix of beloved American classics and pop songs that will rouse them to clap and sing if they know the songs. It will be a very entertaining night of music. It will also be romantic. Lots of gorgeous love songs. It’s great for the whole family because it’s so engaging and I tell some stories about the songs and Linda,” said the entertainer. Celebrated for her ability to improvise music compositions at the piano, she added, “It’s a lot of audience participation too. I am making up a Linda Ronstadt-esque song and I will have my quartet help me along with it and then the orchestra will join me for the last chord. The audience will help me write an Indianapolis love song for a Linda genre of music. It’s been one of my favorite things to do in Indy. I have found that Indy audiences are the most creative.”
Before we said our goodbyes, I asked Callaway if she missed her mom, Shirley, a celebrated singer, pianist and one of New York’s leading voice teachers, who died of cancer in 2017. She responded, “I do miss my mom, but I have to say that whenever I sing, I feel her presence. As I have said to my audiences, music is the bridge to heaven and earth. She is certainly a huge part of who I am, as is my father (John, the late renowned Chicago broadcaster), so I honor both of them everywhere I go and try to keep their memory alive and what they taught me.”
For tickets and information about “Ann Hampton Callaway: The Linda Ronstadt Songbook,” call 317-639-4300 or visit indianaplissymphony.org.